WASHINGTON – The number of violent crimes in the United States rose for a second straight year in 2006, marking the first sustained increase in homicides, robberies and other serious offenses since the early 1990s, according to an FBI report to be released Monday.
The FBI’s Uniform Crime Report will show an increase of about 1.3 percent in violent offenses last year, including a 6 percent rise in robberies and a slight rise in homicides, according to law enforcement officials, who described key findings in advance of the report’s release. That follows an increase of 2.3 percent in 2005, which was the first significant increase in violent crime in 15 years.
Much of the increase was concentrated in medium-size cities, officials said. Criminologists and law enforcement officials offer varying theories for the upswing, including an increase in the juvenile population, growing numbers of released prison inmates and the rise of serious gang problems in smaller jurisdictions.
Whatever the cause, the statistics are likely to create new political trouble for the Bush administration. Crime fighting has long been a signature Republican political issue, but this week Democratic lawmakers cited the new trend as evidence of weaknesses in federal assistance to local law enforcement.
“After years of driving crime rates down, we’re now in reverse gear,” said Sen. Joseph R. Biden, D-Del., chairman of a Senate crime subcommittee. “It’s time to get back to crime-fighting basics – that means more cops on the streets, equipped with the tools and resources they need to keep our neighborhoods safe.”
The statistics do not take into account changes in city populations and reflect only an absolute rise in the number of crimes reported to law enforcement authorities. But Democrats and some law enforcement groups emphasized that the statistics, along with anecdotal reports, show a clear upward trend in violent crime over the past two years, particularly in cities such as Indianapolis and Milwaukee.
These critics say the increase has been spurred by declines in assistance from the federal government, including more than $2 billion in cuts in Justice Department law enforcement programs since 2002.
The number of violent offenses fell steadily and often dramatically from 1993 until early in this decade, when the volume of reports began to level off. The first significant increase came in 2005, driven by dramatic spikes in homicides and robberies in many mid-size and large cities, from Cleveland to Houston to Phoenix. The Midwest was hit particularly hard, with a violent-crime increase twice as high as in the nation overall.
Law enforcement officials said the FBI report on Monday will show that similar trends held true in 2006, although the overall increase is lower. The number of rapes and assaults declined slightly, while property crimes, such as auto theft and vandalism, fell by 2.9 percent, continuing a long trend.